The most talked-about new lingerie collection of 2012 didn’t come from a precocious design school grad or a wannabe Gaga stylist, though there’s plenty of both around these days.
It’s the new Victoria’s Secret Designer Collection, which caught consumers and the industry itself by surprise with its sudden appearance in late January — when the powerhouse retailer is usually busy boggling our minds with new swimwear collections and a pink blizzard of Valentine’s Day offerings.
The new Designer Collection was released only online and in a handful of stores after months of secretive planning that included the unannounced debut of some pieces during last fall’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Numerous media reports stated that the collection sold out in one day.
And although that’s not quite true, the collection is sufficiently different from the company’s other products that it could be a game-changer — for Victoria’s Secret and the North American lingerie industry in general. Here’s a Q&A guide to the new collection, and why it’s worth paying attention to.
What’s so special about this collection?
First, it’s gorgeous. Gone are the style signatures that often undercut Victoria’s Secret‘s aspirations as a fashion label: there are no logos, no cheesy digital prints, no Sexy Little™ branding and, best of all, none of the bright candy pink you’ll find throughout the VS catalog.
Colorways are mostly soft and understated (with the exception of the summery lemonade hue above) and there are plenty of genteel embellishments like silk straps, sparkly bows and elegant embroidery.
It’s a small collection and pieces are meant to be worn in sets, which is another deviation from the company’s typical mix-and-match approach. Those ubiquitous VS T-shirt bras are, for the most part, replaced with stylish underwire demis and balconets and a few tastefully embellished push-ups.
Of course, it’s also a lot more expensive than almost everything else in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Bras go up to $158, which is more than three times the cost of a typical VS bra. Some people have complained about the price tag, but Victoria’s Secret would rather you thought of it this way: it’s still less than you’ll pay at La Perla.
Why is it called a “designer collection”?
That’s a good question, since a “designer” fashion label usually carries the name of its designer — which this one doesn’t. The collection was produced by longtime VS supplier Bennett & Company (which also produces their popular erotic costumes line), but VS doesn’t showcase or even identify its designer or design team members.
This is essentially a generic, upscale capsule collection that could have been called the “premium” or “luxury” collection. Internally, where the collection was shrouded in secrecy befitting the Manhattan Project last summer, it was known to employees as the “red label” collection.
Branding it the “designer collection” appears to be a way of piggybacking on the company’s earlier designer series (see below) and, oddly, giving Victoria’s Secret some couture cred by positioning it alongside other fashion lingerie “designers”.
It also capitalizes on the snobbish appeal of the word “designer”, which usually means “better and more expensive” in a consumer culture besotted with designer dogs, designer cocktails and even designer diapers.
Of course that approach could backfire, since it begs the question: If this is “designer” lingerie, what’s all that other stuff they sell?
Is it really sold out — and if so, why?
It’s hard to know whether this collection sold truckloads or if VS simply ordered a small test run — regardless, there’s not much left. The collection went on sale online and in fewer than 10 stores in the last week of January. To make matters worse, most styles were offered in a very limited range of sizes. The pretty powder-blue sheer lace corset above, for example, only comes in four sizes — and only the 34C is still available.
This has all the hallmarks of a market test which, given its eager reception, will almost certainly come roaring back later with much wider distribution and selection. Think of it as the lingerie world’s equivalent to the McRib.
Why was there so much secrecy around this collection?
There’s a lot riding on this for Victoria’s Secret: they’re not just trying to sell a new line, they’re ultimately hoping to redefine the lingerie shopping experience for North American women. By testing this market, VS wants to learn whether there’s a broader public appetite for the kind of luxury and status-symbol appeal offered by the dozens of tiny brands nipping at their heels and, more importantly, by sexy (and more costly) European imports like La Perla, Agent Provocateur and others.
In other words, are North American women ready to start spending more for better intimates?
If they’ve guessed right (and we think they have), it’s a timely move. Just as Victoria’s Secret continues to expand into other countries (its UK flagship store is set to open this summer in London), so too are offshore competitors — especially Agent Provocateur — looking to expand stateside and take a bite out of their North American market share. Expect a long, hot summer ahead.
How does this affect independent lingerie designers?
To make room for the Designer Collection, Victoria’s Secret axed a long-time tradition of showcasing the work of hand-picked independent labels by buying their goods and giving them display space in select retail outlets. Among those featured brands were The Lake and Stars, Yes Master, La Fée Verte, Bordelle, and Ell & Cee. The program also gave established international labels such as Pleasure State, Chantal Thomass and Lascivious an introduction to the North American market.
Numerous young labels benefited from the program, which put VS in the unusual position of promoting (and profiting from) its competitors. Even so, that program allowed VS to market-test some fashion-forward styles that didn’t fit its own catalog, and it created a lot of industry goodwill. Indie labels appreciated the outreach and coveted a spot in the VS designer series, knowing it could provide brand exposure and much-needed revenue during their startup phase.
“They were wonderful to work with,” Laura Mehlinger of the young fashion label Lola Haze told Lingerie Talk. “Their buyer was talented and made elevated and interesting buys. I was initially surprised at how daring some of her choices were for a mass market store.”
The Turkish label Else had some of its distinctive Chevron collection picked up by Victoria’s Secret last fall, just before the program was discontinued. “We were happy they picked us and wish that business was continuous rather than just a one-time opportunity,” Else designer Ela Onur told us. “I think having a high-end designer mix was a good strategy to raise VS’s consumer profile.”
Alas, that highly sought-after market entry point is now closed to a new generation of up-and-coming designers.
Is there anything original about the new collection?
The promotional material for the Designer Collection calls it “lingerie only Victoria’s Secret could create” — an odd bit of hyperbole that is both untrue and kind of a rude jab at the hundreds of other designer brands that are in the same business.
VS creative chief Ed Razek offered the same kind of silliness when he told Women’s Wear Daily: “We took it in-house because we have a design team that has such a passion for lingerie and they differentiate Victoria’s Secret from any other brand.”
In fact, the opposite is true here. However lovely the VS Designer Collection is, much of it is boilerplate French lingerie design — nothing wrong with that! — and the kind of thing produced by innumerable other couture labels and department store brands alike. It’s only “new” to Victoria’s Secret.
The company admits as much in its own promo material, which says the collection is “inspired by iconic Parisian fashion and crafted with a nod to European couturiers.”
How will North American indie designers survive now?
The move by Victoria’s Secret into “fancy” undies isn’t so much a threat to independent designers as it is a recognition of the tremendous growth in the number and creativity of new labels over the past few years.
These days, creative designers can pitch their wares to a growing assortment of distribution channels such as high-end fashion retailers like Barney’s, online stores like Net-A-Porter and aggressive boutiques with robust web operations.
Treacle from The Lingerie Addict told us about bumping into a couple of lingerie designers in Seattle who were on their way to a meeting with Nordstrom which, she said, “is swooping in and beginning to carry a lot of designer lines after years of sticking to the same old brands.”
Fashion retailers are scrambling to offer exclusive labels and boutique collections to differentiate themselves and incentivize customers. A big, creative independent lingerie industry fits that model very well.
What’s the long-term impact of all this?
The Designer Collection opens Victoria’s Secret up to a whole new market segment — women willing to spend hundreds of dollars at once on lingerie shopping sprees. That usually means a more mature customer with more discretionary income and more glamorous tastes than they are used to serving.
But it’s not just the older market up for grabs here. Assuming VS decides to expand this collection, it could have a long-lasting impact on their typical, younger clientele as well.
Countless women (and men) in North America under the age of 40 learned about lingerie and developed their own style preferences primarily through their exposure to Victoria’s Secret and its relentless marketing. Many are either unaware of, disinterested in, or don’t have access to luxury import labels or arty designer offerings.
The Designer Collection is poised to change all that by introducing a higher standard of lingerie fashion to millions who now think splurging on a $30 three-pack of lacy briefs is the height of self-indulgence.
If Victoria’s Secret succeeds in stimulating people’s appetite for finer, more stylish lingerie, everyone will benefit and all those small labels currently on the outside looking in will be glad they did.
Victoria’s Secret has produced dozens of video promos this year but none is as charming as this one, which shows their Angels making a mess out of ‘Jingle Bells‘.
Erin croaks, Doutzen forgets the words, Candice is tuneless, and rocker wife Lily can give up any ambitions she might have about singing backup for the Kings of Leon.
But no one can top Adriana’s reference to “laughing all the way … in an open horse’s leg.” Sofia Vergara couldn’t have said it better.
Full marks to VS for releasing this little ditty, which shows the models at their least glamorous, making fun of themselves, and having a ball doing so.
It’s a welcome antidote to the bombardment of Michael Bay-directed commercial assaults we get all year long. And the best part? They’re not selling bras this time.
Tonight’s 16th annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show will be such a blinding blur of light, sound and skin it will be over before your brain has time to click into gear and make sense of it all. Which is partly the point of it all: just sit back, let the blizzard engulf you, then reach for your credit card.
But there’s a lot going on under the lights at the Lexington Armory besides just those gleaming, glittering, gorgeous costumed amazons. To help put the whole VS extravaganza into context, we’ve put together this little viewers’ guide.
This Year, It’s All About The Kids
Who can forget the highlight of last year’s VSFS, when junior Angel Chanel Iman got her wings and the offstage announcer could be heard gushing, “Go, baby Chanel!”? Well, this year at least eight of the 37 models will be younger than baby Chanel (who turns 21 on Thursday). Victoria’s Secret has been anxiously counting down the months on the calendar till they could enlist some of the current youth brigade of supermodels, including Karlie Kloss (19), Bregje Heinen (18) and Caroline Brasch Nielsen (18).
It’s a deliberate, and smart, move to fill in some of the conspicuous recent gaps in the Angel lineup after popular luminaries such as Heidi Klum and Marisa Miller — and now Rosie H-W — moved on. This year’s lineup skews younger (average age is 23.5), which fits nicely with the VS target market of youngsters with disposable cash.
Of course, the VSFS can also make you feel really old. Miranda is already 28 and Adriana and Ale, the grannies of the group, are the big 3-0.
This Year, It’s All About The Body
Hard to imagine, but there have been a few bumps in Victoria’s Secret’s gold-paved road to global domination this year. The company came under fire repeatedly (including here) for promoting unhealthy body types after several models (notably Candice Swanepoel and Lily Aldridge) appeared to lose weight dramatically. That perception wasn’t helped by occasional interviews in which Angels discussed their meager pre-show diets, and two (Miranda and Doutzen) bounced back from recent pregnancies to reveal to-die-for figures in record time.
A weak PR pushback tried to argue that these were simply healthy girls who spend a lot of time in the gym — not poster girls for eating disorders and compulsive weight loss. The launch this summer of a new sportswear collection gave VS the chance to show off its girls in a gym setting, but that didn’t silence the skeptics.
But this year’s Fashion Show gave Victoria’s Secret the final word after the company released a series of pre-show promotional videos showing Candice, Doutzen, Ale and Lily in workout sessions with personal trainers. Bottom line? These girls are astonishingly fit, flexible, toned and obviously very hard-working. Now that‘s good PR.
As a result, tonight’s show will be a kind of vindication for the Angels after a year of whispers and finger-pointing. Their version of body and weight management is still beyond the reach of most people, and the company still prefers models who are much, much slimmer than its average customer, but the Angels deserve credit for weathering the storm and projecting a kind of healthy, positive energy that radiates throughout the brand.
This Year, It’s All About The Boys
We tend to forget that Victoria’s Secret’s target demographic isn’t just sexy young women. It’s also horny guys.
Tonight’s Fashion Show acknowledges that reality by enlisting support from some of pop culture’s most notorious horndogs, Adam Levine and Kanye West, plus the superbly well-married Jay-Z. The VSFS is all about creating fantasies, and employing these stand-in stud doubles will give male viewers something to relate to … or at least aspire toward. And afterward, you know where they’ll do their shopping.
Yes, You Can Buy Those Outfits … Sort Of
The VS Fashion Show isn’t a typical runway show in that the brand isn’t strictly promoting a new collection (its holiday collection has been in stores and online for several weeks already). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making a shopping list while viewing tonight.
The extravagant costumes are all one-offs, so you won’t be buying them. Nevertheless, each costume has as its foundation (pardon the pun) key pieces from the VS catalogue — usually one of the newer push-up bras and lacey briefs.
And you can buy the zillion-dollar Fantasy Bra that Miranda will be wearing in tonight’s Aquatic segment. But no one will.
They’re Not Just Bodies, They’re People Too
One of our annual gripes about what is otherwise the best show on TV is Victoria’s Secret’s refusal to credit the models who walk its runway. Of course, most viewers will recognize the core group of Angels, who have almost ubiquitous media exposure in North America, but many of the remaining 30 models will be unknown to everyone except diehard fashionistas.
If prior years are an indication, tonight’s show will pass without the models being identified individually. There’s a logic to this — fashion catwalks are meant to focus on the wardrobe, not the models — but we still don’t like it. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself racing for your laptop after the show to try to put a name to some of those gorgeous
Here’s a tip: the fan site VSholic.com has a gallery showing every one of tonight’s models — and their names.
The Diversity Scorecard
The VS Fashion Show is fast becoming the Olympics of the fashion world: this year, models from 19 countries will be walk the runway. And here’s the big news: we have a new gold medal nation. The U.S. has reclaimed top spot, with 8 models appearing, beating Brazil (6), the hotbed of hotties that topped the field last year with 9 models.
There’s a strong turnout from Eastern European models, a pair from China and newcomers from Puerto Rico and New Zealand. What’s missing in this mix? India, Mexico, Japan and — wouldn’t this have been timely? — no one from the Middle East (although Shanina Shaik from Australia has some Saudi Arabian lineage). And get ready for a border skirmish when Canadian viewers realize that Jessica Stam and Coco Rocha didn’t make the cut this year. Whatever happened to free trade!?
A more serious issue relates to Victoria’s Secret sparing use of women of color in their shows and overall marketing. This issue has nagged the retailer for years, but this year’s show suggests the company is paying attention. You’ll see at least five women of color from four countries: Chanel Iman (U.S.), Anais Mali (France), Joan Smalls (Puerto Rico), Lais Ribeiro and Emanuela de Paula (Brazil).
Perhaps the best indication of the changing face of modeling can be seen in the young latte-skinned beauty Shanina: she counts Australia, Lithuania, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in her heritage.
Like Junk Food for Fashion Snobs
Some of the most unlikely, but amusing, parts of the VS Fashion Show are the fleeting glimpses of celebrity audience members. Not the Angels’ rock star boyfriends and wannabe boyfriends, but the fashion industry heavyweights who always seem slightly out of place.
Keep an eye out for Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Alexander Wang, Donna Karan and others in the background and ask yourself: when was the last time they were in a Victoria’s Secret?
And tonight’s best stargazing moment? Beyonce!
Does It All Add Up?
Because it’s a paid-for package, the VS Fashion Show provides a revealing glimpse into the economics of broadcast television. With a budget this year of nearly $13-million, the show costs about six times as much to produce as a typical night on American Idol, or an entire season of Walking Dead.
And what returns does that investment create? Last year’s TV audience was about 9 million, putting the per-viewer cost above $1 — way too high to support most forms of ad-dependent programming.
Only VS knows, however, how much oomph the show delivers to its bottom line — and parent company Limited Brands has enjoyed consistently stellar results even throughout the recession. Of course, the company doesn’t need to be the biggest show on television, just so long as those who do watch spend afterwards.
Does This Show Have a Future?
Hard thought it may be to contemplate, the VS Fashion Show won’t be around forever … and possibly not for much longer. At least not in its current format, wedged into the late-night, post-family-viewing-hour slot by the FCC and network censors.
It’s not that the show isn’t a huge success — it is — but that technology might push it in new, more cost-effective directions. In short, you don’t need to pay CBS for an hour of prime-time real estate to win a big audience these days.
We saw a glimpse of the future of big-audience fashion shows last spring when French lingerie label Etam streamed its catwalk show live on the internet — and turned it into a slick, star-studded production. Fashion labels everywhere are looking at various live broadcast options that bypass television altogether and expand their reach.
And VS is already way ahead of the curve when it comes to cross-platform marketing. Tonight, they’ll stream a live “pre-show” at 9 p.m. on their Facebook page and website, the main event will be available through the VS iPad app, and there’ll be a constant blow-by-blow on Twitter.
Will all of this bring an end to the annual holiday tradition of watching the VS Fashion Show at home in the dark while your parents are out Christmas shopping? Possibly not for a while, but one thing’s certain: changing formats and a much bigger, broadly dispersed audience will turn the VSFS into an enduring “event”, not just a single hour of television.
This Year, It’s All About Timing
Sometimes, you just get lucky. When singer Cee Lo Green dropped out of the cast days before its taping, it left producers with a big hole in the schedule. They asked rapidly rising superstar Nicki Minaj to take the thankless job of stepping into Cee Lo’s oversized clown shoes.
Good move. A few days later, Nicki rocketed to the top of the hip-hop world by capturing the top prizes at the American Music Awards. It doesn’t hurt that the pink-haired rapper’s breakthrough album, Pink Friday, shares a name with Victoria’s Secret’s junior Pink line. Think that’ll make for a good music-fashion fit?
Oh, and Cee Lo’s late exit also solved another production problem: trying to get the Angels to agree to a lip-synch version of “F*** You“.
Finally, A Reality Show for Nerds
Let’s face it, the concept of “reality” is a bit elastic in the dungeon world of technology geeks (of whom we are one). But the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is nothing if not a reality show for the reality-challenged.
The only problem is that, well, with all this damned media coverage those Angels can be just a little too real, and depressingly so. If only they were game avatars, we’d could relate to them as equals.
Mercifully, other geeks out there have addressed this problem. In addition to a handful of massive (and fanatical) VS fan sites, there’s a tiny community of gameboys and girls who have turned the VS Fashion Show into a fake version of itself in Sims land. Do a YouTube search on “victoria+secret+sims” and prepare to be both horrified and amazed. (If you don’t know what Sims is, stop reading and go back to your book.)
Here’s part 1 of the entire 2010 VS Fashion Show, converted into a Sims version by the heroic (female) Euro-blogger TechnoMicky. Believe me, it takes MONTHS to do this.
And you thought spending an hour watching underwear models on TV was a waste of your time!
Mick Jagger would likely be appalled if anyone out there really thinks he moves like this.
If nothing else, this lip-synch cover of the Maroon 5 hit — timed to promote tomorrow’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show — proves only that the Angels were never meant to dance.
But who’s complaining? This latest VS promo recalls the joyful spirit of last year’s terrific Angels mock-cover of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework‘ and gives Adriana, Ale and company a chance to let their hair down in advance of their big night. We should all have so much fun on karaoke night.
Dressing the Angels in menswear — rather than the usual glittery, bone-chilling smalls — gives the shoot a cool vibe that Adam Levine and Maroon 5 will be hard pressed to match during tomorrow’s (taped) performance. And, to be honest, Lily and Doutzen have some serious dance-floor moves.
But move like Jagger? Not in those heels!
Forget about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Forget about Christmas, for that matter.
Tomorrow is the happiest day of the year for fashionistas everywhere. Only one more sleep …
There, I said it.
The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (Tuesday, 10 p.m., CBS) may be a shamelessly corny infomercial, awkwardly staged and transparently superficial, but we don’t care. For one day a year, we absolutely adore VS and its often-bland representation of American sexuality and fashion.
It’s like a Vegas chorus line in your living room, and quite simply the most fun you’ll have watching TV all year — ogling those thoroughbreds, snarking about the outfits, lip-synching along with the pop stars, laughing at the goofy voice-overs and just plain gasping at the sheer extravagance of it all.
Tomorrow, we’ll have a special Viewer’s Guide to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to help get you primed and pumped.
In the meantime, enjoy these backstage images shot by VS’s superb go-to photographer, Russell James.